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Lunenburg County goats chow down on Christmas trees

Sweetwood Farm owner Heather Squires can often be found in her creamery making various cheeses from goat milk.
Sweetwood Farm owner Heather Squires can often be found in her creamery making various cheeses from goat milk.

How will Tinker Bell, Pangaea, Penny and the rest of the crew react when 300 or so Christmas trees get delivered to their doorstep?

“They’ll be absolutely delighted,” promised their owner, Heather Squires. “I call them and they charge. It’s like a feeding frenzy. Literally, they just come and gorge. It’s something really wonderful to see.”

In a few weeks time, a few hundred evergreens will show up at Sweetwood Farm in Blockhouse, courtesy of Lunenburg and Mahone Bay residents. Both town councils made the call, figuring a goat farm would be a better place for used Christmas trees than a landfill.

Squires, who’s making a go of it running Eastern Canada’s smallest dairy farm essentially by herself, is grateful.

A little over four years ago the Newfoundland native said goodbye to her old home of England and a career in academia. On this 75-acre farm, where a German homesteader staked a claim back in the 1700s, she’s proving how a small-scale farm can be environmentally and economically sustainable.

“It’s like Ross Farm, except I don’t dress up and I don’t have a government salary,” she said with a laugh.

It starts and ends with her 36 heritage goats (specifically, Toggenburg and French Alpine goats).

It’s their rich, creamy milk that provides the key ingredients for her specialty cheeses: largely goat, feta and the increasingly trendy Halloumi (she’s the only one in Eastern Canada making it in the traditional style). The magic happens in her nearby creamery.

She picked up the craft while living in England and travelling to various European countries, perfecting traditional cheese-making techniques. Most of what she makes she sells at Lunenburg and Hubbards (during the summer) farm markets. But just last week she opened a shop on site, which will be open Sunday afternoons through the winter. Come the summer, her cheeses will be for sale at larger retailers in Halifax.

The farm also boasts a selfcatering chalet, hosting guests from around the Maritimes who stay and learn the craft of cheesemaking.During the summer she’ll get a handful of WWOOFers (young international volunteer farm helpers) who will lighten her load. That’s when she’ll host yoga sessions on the farm. Yes, the goats are free to mingle and entertain.

So the goats need to be nurtured. The Christmas trees will come in handy and Squires figures they’ll keep them nourished till about Easter.

“What they tend to go for first is the bark. They strip the bark off. It’s very nutritious because all these trees are tapping minerals from deep in the ground. They need a heavy mineral load and that’s why it’s generally better to raise goats on scrub land, with shrubs and stunted trees, as opposed to grass. “But they have amazing jaws and teeth. It’s nothing to come back after a couple of hours and see a tree stripped completely, from the branches all the way to the trunk. They work together.”

It’s a lot of work, 18-hour days, requiring her to stay on the farm virtually all the time.

“But on the positive side, I can’t imagine my life without goats. I absolutely adore them.

“They are extremely personable,

they have lots of personality, they’re extremely hard not to love. They produce wonderful milk and they are the most sustainable farming animal you could have.

“I wouldn’t say they’re like family, because they really are family.”

Used trees from Lunenburg, Mahone Bay will feed dairy stock at Sweetwood Farm

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